Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Before You Die...You See the Ring

What a weekend I had!  I hit the ground running when the bell finally rang to release us from school and dashed home to grab a Blu-ray I needed to return to Best Buy, and then I drove myself to Lancaster where I exhanged the disc and bought two more (it's a sickness) and watched almost all three films in one night.  Then on Saturday, I went to my first ever film convention (this one themed around horror films) and had an absolute blast.  It was like being in an amusement park where everything on display had something to do with horror and the attractions you waited in-line for included scads of famous people.  I met Elvira (Cassandra Peterson is her real name), Amy Steel (from Friday the 13th Part 2 and April Fool's Day), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog/Creepshow/Swamp Thing), Tippi Hedren (The Birds/Marnie), Lisa Wilcox (Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5), Denise Crosby (Star Trek TNG/Pet Sematary), and J.D. Feigelson (the writer of "Dark Night of the Scarecrow" - possibly one of the best TV horror movies ever made).  I was on a "famous person" high the whole day...and everyone was so nice.  Not just the celebrities, mind you, but everyone from the vendors hocking their wares, to the strange costumed people.  I've never been in a crowded place like that and have that much goodwill all over.  I hope they do one in Columbus again, now that I have a taste for convention life I think I'd totally go back.  I only scratched the surface of the people who were there too, as Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) and Doug Bradley (the original Pinhead) were also in attendance...but there was simply not enough cash in my pocket to meet them all (it costs about $20 a person to get an autograph, plus $20 to get in the door). When I finally got home after 9pm, I felt like I had LIVED.  I won't ever look at those films in the same way again now that I know the personalities behind the characters (and I'll never forget how many of them just kinda shot the breeze with me like average joes).  Anyway, today's film finds its roots in Friday night's movie extravaganza and was the very disc that I went in to get in place of the one I had.  Until I heard that Best Buy had the film on Blu-ray exclusively, I realized I hadn't thought of it in a while.  It had certainly been years since I'd last watched it and I had no idea why, since it was such a good thriller.  However, going back to it Friday night reminded me why I thought the film was so great (and why I really didn't like the sequel)...though I won't lie, it does spook me on a hardcore level (and maybe that's why I don't watch it often).  However, let's watch this one together now and stare into the mystery of The Ring.

Rachel Keller is a single mom and a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in Seattle and finds herself constantly frazzled and torn between her career and her duties as a mother.  Her career suddenly takes precedent when her niece, Katie, suddenly and inexplicably dies one night.  At the funeral, Rachel talks with her sister...Katie's mother...and her sister laments about how she cannot find one specialist to explain just how Katie died nor can she find one other instance of a disease or disorder that would stop a girl's heart and leave her contorted and deformed as Katie was found.  She begs Rachel to use her skills as an investigative journalist to find out just what happened.  Meanwhile, Rachel's son Aiden is hurting from the suddenness of Katie's death and is feeling as though he doesn't have enough time left.  Rachel asks around with Katie's friends to try and find out more about what was going on in her life.  It seems that Katie's boyfriend also died the same night and at the same time that she did, along with several of his friends.  According to them, they all watched a videotape that told them they would die in seven days.  In her sleuthing, Rachel discovers that the one common factor between all of the deceased teens is that they all spent a weekend at Shelter Mountain Inn, a secluded bunch of cabins in the mountains.  Rachel heads there and finds the tape that was spoken of and watches it.  On the tape are strange and frightening images, almost like watching someone's nightmare, and when it ends the phone rings and a voice whispers "Seven days."  Now, Rachel has only one week to unravel the mystery of the tape before the same curse kills her like it did Katie.

The Ring must have sounded like a ridiculous idea on paper, which is where it was first found.  Koji Suzuki, a Japanese author, wrote the story as a novel and despite the ridiculous sounding premise of a killer videotape it was popular enough to spawn a Japanese film in 1998.  Then, in 2002, Dreamworks Pictures decided that the Japanese film was frightening enough to warrant an American version and thus The Ring was born.  The film follows the template of the original film very closely, only diverging a bit toward the end, and does some with aplomb.  It is a frightening and unsettling mystery full of jumps and spooky shenanigans, and all of it hinges on the idea that a video could kill someone.  It's a real testiment to the strength of the original story, the screenwriting of Ehren Krueger, and the direction of Gore Verbinski.  The Ring is chock full of interesting story developments and twists but it also has creepy imagery in spades.  Just when you think you've seen everything the film can throw at you, it comes up with something new and terrifying to surprise you with.  The acting is top notch as well and features Naomi Watts in the lead role that rocketed her to stardom (she had already recieved critical acclaim, but The Ring put her front and center with a wider audience than her previous triumphs) along with Martin Henderson as her ex-boyfriend Noah and David Dorfman as Aiden, her spooky and troubled son.  Special mention should be given to Brian Cox who plays a small supporting role that is hugely important to the plot.  All the pieces of The Ring click and make you believe that yes, this is possible...which is pretty amazing considering that it is about a cursed videotape.  Watch if you dare.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Check In

Hey friends, haven't watched a lot of movies today because I've been very busy getting ready for our spring musical auditions (currently in progress).  This year we decided to do "Legally Blonde: The Musical", something I'm very excited about.  It isn't often that a school such as ours gets a chance to do something that's relatively brand-new...it was only just released for licensing this past September and I leaped on the chance to produce it.  The kids are equally excited and seem rather at ease for a show with such a tight group of big parts and a load of relatively small roles...then again we have fewer divas auditioning this year than we had in the past.  It's rather nice actually.  That's not to say that they aren't taking casting seriously...they are rabidly practicing and trying to be perfect, but they are wisely not putting any politics in front of me (they may be stabbing each other in the back out of view, but not doing it blatently like in years past).  I also get the impression that almost every student who auditions this year will be pleased just to be in the show, rather than deeply devistated to be cast in the role they had planned to have (there may be one who is deeply dissapointed but one is much easier to appease than several).  Plus, I have my trusty co-director/music director Steph along for the ride again and she helps keep me sane (and we also see things usually eye-to-eye) and she is always happy to play the bad cop for me.  I'm very excited to work on this production and I really think it will be our best show yet.

As for life, it is pretty much the same as always...single, too busy to really think about it, and trying to save money where I can.  Speaking of money, I have paid for my summer vacation in full and am totally pumped for it.  I am taking my mother on a cruise to the Eastern Carribean for a week in June and she couldn't be more excited.  She's always wanted to take a cruise but never had anyone to go with, and I had some extra cash from my tax refund and so I decided that this year would be a perfect oppertunity to go again, so it worked out.  Two weeks before that I'm also going to Disney World with our school's music department as a chaperone, which also is going to be a great time.  I love Disney and will happily hang with the kids and go on all the rides.  I haven't been since 2008, and there have been several changes since then that I'm looking forward to (like the updated Star Tours and the different things they've been building for the Fantasyland expansion).  Over all, June is shaping up to be a great month.  July and August aren't full of much yet, but I'm hoping to do some low-cost activities to keep things interesting...like camping and trips to local amusement parks.  I may even pay a visit to Boston to see my friend Mavis...or go back to NYC to catch Evita.  My options are pretty open at the moment.  It's a little wierd to think that in just over two months, it will be summer vacation again.  I remember thinking at the beginning of the school year how slow I feared it would go by and how not-ready I was to start school with all the policy changes we would face.  Now, I feel like the year has almost passed too quickly and hasn't allowed me to go in depth in as many topics and subjects as I would have on our old schedule.  The block periods, even considering that they are very long stretches with the same kids, make the days pass fairly quickly because you only have 4 periods a day.  That speed has also crept into the production periods for the shows and makes them seem to zip by as well...often I feel like I am racing at breakneck speeds toward an inevitable end.

Forgive me for my random musings and thoughts, I just needed to let some of my jumbled mind loose for a walk.  I'll be back soon to comment on a film.  Take care dears!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Wow, its amazing how a weekend can really take it out of you.  We had our performance of "Noises Off" this past Friday and Saturday and I have never been more exhausted in my life.  Honestly, I am completely pooped...which is kinda amazing considering I've been getting plenty of sleep since Sunday.  I just can't seem to catch up.  So instead of feeling happy and energized for my birthday, I'm feeling run down and sleepy.  I've actually nearly fallen asleep several times today when I had to sit in absolute quiet (did I mention we're also taking the OGT this week and I have two hours in the morning where I sit and basically do nothing while I watch sophomores take standardized tests...that was horrible today, because I kept nodding off).  I'm also feeling a little under the weather because spring has sprung and my sinuses and allergies are acting up...oh and there was a time change this weekend too.  So all of these factors have now converged, making my birthday a rather sleepy one...and I'm supposed to drive to Charleston tonight to have dinner with mom later.  I'm sure by the time school lets out I'll be fine, but right now it doesn't feel like a very happy birthday.  So in honor of birthdays that don't go right, I've decided to talk about a nasty little 80s slasher that came along just in time to capitalize on the 'day-specific or 'holliday' horror craze.  So join me as I wish myself Happy Birthday to Me.

Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright is a pretty and popular high school senior at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school's "Top Ten": an elite clique which comprises the richest, most popular and most snobbish teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford's campus. One night en route to the tavern, Top Ten member Bernadette O'Hara is attacked in her car by a killer whose face cannot be seen. The Top Ten is briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman but they soon get over it when their argument with another customer results in one of them putting a pet mouse into his beer; mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.  On the way home, the Top Ten see a drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferries). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. As the car goes over the drawbridge Ginny yells "Mother!" and makes it safely across. After the car stops Ginny runs from the vehicle into the darkness home. Ginny shares a handful of lost, repressed memories with her on-call psychiatrist, Dr. David Faraday. She underwent an experimental medical procedure, involving surgery to restore brain tissue, after surviving a harrowing accident at a drawbridge.  As Ginny's 18th birthday approaches and she attempts to get her life back to normal despite suffering from memory blackouts, the remaining Top Ten are killed in increasingly brutal ways.  Soon Ginny begins to wonder what these murders have to do with her and whether or not she is committing them.

Happy Birthday to Me is one of those 80s slashers that attempted to be something better than what the studio wanted it to be and was undermined by it's concept and it's advertising.  The idea of a that a girl could possibly kill her friends due to repressed memories (and she is the protagonist at that) was a lively one and the idea that it would take place as she neared her 18th birthday was enough to make studio salivate and think they had the next Halloween or Friday the 13th.  Unfortunately, advertising the film as "The Six Most Bizarre Murders You Will Ever See" ignored the wonderful psychological thriller aspects of the story, including the "is she or isn't she?" aspect of the tale which became more and more ambiguous as the studio kept trying to keep Ginny as a sympathetic and guiltless protagonist.  Finally, a ridiculous ending was tacked onto it in order to keep Ginny from being guilty and the film found itself lost at the box office when it opened.  People coming to see "The Six Most Bizarre Murders You'll Ever See" were no doubt disappointed by the rather tame and run-of-the-mill murders on display while scene after scene of rich exposition and character development passed by and bored them to tears.  People who would have appreciated the Freudian aspects of the story and the way it focused on developing Ginny stayed away due to the inflammatory tagline...and one of the film's coolest scares was ruined on the poster art.  It was a distribution mess.  In later years, fans would sprout up to support Happy Birthday to Me as a slasher that was before it's time and unfairly treated...and many fans are still clamoring for a version of the film that includes the original ending.  However, I don't think that will ever happen.  As it stands, Happy Birthday to Me is one of those movies that you know could have been great...but was never allowed to be.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How To Lose Your Mind Doing a Play

Well friends, given that I have posted rather regularly lately on various subjects and topics you can probably guess that I have been otherwise occupied.  In fact, this week is production week on the play I have been in charge of for the past 6 weeks and all our hard work is finally going to pay off on Friday night when "Noises Off!", a Chillicothe High School production, opens for our lovely little town at 7:30 pm.  'Hard work' seems like an understatement...it has been like running the gauntlet this time, easily the hardest play I've ever attempted to direct.  I'm not sure if it's the props, or the situation, or the fact that the set needs to be able to rotate 180 degrees...but it has been a trial by fire, and all of us have stepped up our game to produce something wonderfully funny and entertaining.  So you can see why I might have been busy...but now I am back and ready to share observations on the film version of this hit play.  So settle in and grab some sardines, we're about to have Noises Off.

The film opens at the opening night performance of Broadway's new comic play, "Nothing On" - horrid little British sex farce where men drop their trousers and women run around in their underwear.  Everyone seems pumped for the play to begin...except for Lloyd Dallas, the director.  You see, Lloyd has been with this play since it's humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa where during their final dress rehearsal they couldn't even get through the first act without stopping about 20 times.  At that point, it was simply due to the difficult nature of the play...but over time relationships deteriorate and backstage dramas begin to eclipse what happens on stage.  First there is Dotty Otley, a middle-aged and absent minded actress who can't remember her cues and is on-again-off-again with Garry Lejune, an arrogant actor who never seems to be able to finish a sentence.  Then there is Frederick Fellows, a competent but meek actor who always has some inane question about plot or blocking, who is paired with Belinda Blair, an excellent actress who adores helping her cast mates but who also can't seem to stay out of their business.  Finally there is Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly actor who is prone to drinking and cannot remember his lines or his moves.  Add to the mix Poppy Norton-Taylor, a meek and mousy assistant stage manager who is secretly involved with Lloyd, Tim Allgood, the head stage manager who is high strung and scatterbrained, and Brooke Ashton, a dumb blonde of an actress who is also secretly involved with Lloyd, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.  So we follow the company through three different performances of the play and watch as their perfectly-planned little play finally falls into turmoil.

Noises Off is a really funny film based on a tremendously funny play, and I'm not just saying that because I'm currently doing it.  Yes, the play is better (you cannot beat seeing this amount of chaos on stage live) but the film is a lovely supplement because, as we all know...live performances of our favorite plays don't happen every day.  Every person is the cast is pitch perfect and make the film worth watching for them alone.  Michael Caine as Lloyd straddles a fine line between egomania and insanity as he tries and tries to effectively direct a play and yet lets his own issues get in the way.  Likewise, Carol Burnett as Dotty nails it and manages to be both funny and sympathetic while also coming off as completely selfish and like a diva.  It's an amazingly complex role.  John Ritter and Christopher Reeve as Garry and Freddie respectively are also wonderfully well suited, particularly Reeve who plays completely against type as the nerdy and nervous Freddie.  Rounding out the cast is Denholm Elliott as Selsdon (brilliant), Julie Haggerty as Poppy (delightful), Marilu Henner as Belinda (charming), Nicollette Sheridan (dumb and ditzy to perfection), and Mark Linn-Baker (delightfully scattered) and each of them sells the premise.  The only thing missing is the live audience laughing with you which kinda neuters the chaos somewhat.  But, like I said, the film is a good stand-in for the live perfomance when you need a fix.  And I only hope that our production reaches the dizzing heights of previous productions, film or otherwise.  Like I said, this is the hardest play I've ever done...but it has also been the most fun.